Preview: UAE v Socceroos

The Socceroos will meet a vastly improved opponent and have to contend with intense heat in Abu Dhabi when they take on fellow AFC nation United Arab Emirates in the early hours of Saturday morning (AEDT) as the road to the Asian Cup continues.

After a last-start win against Saudi Arabia, Australia will look to build on that performance and result as build-up towards January’s AFC Asian Cup on home soil.

The UAE, who have also qualified for the Asian Cup, will give coach Ange Postecoglou a better indication of what to expect in a few months’ time. 

And with UAE not having won any of their last four matches, you would expect Ange’s men to register a victory.

What Ange Postecoglou will want to get out of this game...

While relieved to have notched-up just the second win of his tenure in the side’s last outing, the Socceroos boss wouldn’t have been happy with the way they allowed the Saudis back into the contest after racing to an early 2-0 lead.

Concentration and a few defensive lapses continue to plague the side and Postecoglou will want to start eradicating those things from their game.

The should have much more time on the ball than they have been used too in recent matches and longer periods of possession and more quality in the final third will also be a focus.

The majority of this squad has been together for a while now, it’s time to start delivering on a more consistent basis.

This will be an important game for...

Nikolai Topor-Stanley

After six years in the international wilderness, Topor-Stanley is back in the green and gold and deserves his second chance. He has been Western Sydney Wanderers FC’s most consistent defender over the last few seasons, maturing as a leader on the park. With defence still an issue Postecoglou is trying to solve, Topor-Stanley could get an opportunity to show this time  he is here to stay. His club combination with Matthew Spiranovic – who should be back in the Socceroos fold once he recovers from injury – could also work in the 29-year-old’s favour down the track.

Massimo Luongo

The Swindon Town midfielder impressed in the last two matches and can maybe start to secure his spot as a permanent member of the starting XI if he can keep that form going. With the ability to play both in the holding role and further forward, Luongo is the type of player that Postecoglou likes. He seems to enjoy the position just behind the main striker and has those touches of quality needed to thrive in that role. With Tom Rogic’s return point uncertain, this is a huge opportunity for the former Tottenham man.

 
Robbie Kruse

Despite being involved in the previous camp last month, a slip in training meant Kruse was unable to feature against either Belgium or Saudi Arabia. An injury to Tomi Juric has enabled the Bayer Leverkusen winger to get a re-call to this squad and how he would love a chance to get out on the park against UAE. While Mathew Leckie has done a superb job on the right flank in Kruse’s absence, there’s no doubt he is one of the Socceroos’ most important players and any game between now and the Asian Cup will be crucial to build up his confidence.

Likely starting XI and formation for Socceroos…

While there are again a few new faces in the squad, Postecoglou is likely  to go with a settled starting side and formation for the UAE clash.

It would be great to see resurgent Reading shot-stopper Adam Federici in action but in-form Club Brugge goal-keeper Mat Ryan deservedly should keep his place between the sticks. 

Ivan Franjic’s recall probably won’t be enough to see him overtake Chris Herd at right-back at this stage, with Alex Wilkinson and Trent Sainsbury likely to be paired in central defence to continue to build on the partnership. Jason Davidson will against start at left-back.

In midfield, skipper Mile Jedinak and Mark Milligan are expected to again fulfil the holding roles while – judging by training - Massimo Luongo may get the nod just in front of them. Tommy Oar is battling a groin problem and his fitness will decide the make-up of the front three. 

If Oar is fit he should start on the left, with Leckie on the right and Tim Cahill of course leading the line. But if Oar isn’t quite ready to face UAE, Robbie Kruse may slot in on the right forcing Leckie over to the left flank.

Bluffer's guide to United Arab Emirates

Similar to the Socceroos, the UAE are in the middle of a regeneration of their squad and a new era under coach Mehdi Ali.

Currently ranked 73rd in the world, the UAE missed out on a spot at the World Cup in the penultimate round of qualifying, seeing then-coach Strecko Katenac sacked, with Ali called in to lift the atmosphere around the squad.

They will view the Socceroos clash as an important step in their rebuilding process as well as vital preparation for the Asian Cup.

The UAE have qualified for the World Cup once – back at Italia 90 – but lost all three games to Colombia, West Germany, and Yugoslaviarespectively.

There best performance at an Asian Cup was as runner-up in 1996, while their best result in international football remains their Gulf Cup victory over Oman in 2007.

They will miss star midfielder Omar Abdulrahman with a knee problem for this clash but Saeed Al Kathiri, who scored four goals in the recent Asian Games, is back to bolster the attack. 

UAE’s recent results

The UAE have been involved in three successive draws in their recent friendlies, against Paraguay (0-0) and Lithuania (1-1) in September and also against Norway (0-0) in August.

A good result for Australia would be...

After a morale-boosting win over Saudi Arabia last month, it’s all about continuing to build momentum and confidence. The best way to do that is by winning games by playing the way Ange wants them to. 

And despite being lower-ranked than the UAE, this will be viewed as a game the Socceroos should win. 

While UAE’s side is built around quick, athletic players, they are unlikely to press Australia as high as some of their more recent opponents. 

That should give the likes of Kruse, Leckie, Luongo and Cahill the chance to get a bit more time on the ball to do their thing. 

Defensive solidarity will again be a focus and if they can improve in that area, a second straight win should be on the cards for Postecoglou and Co. in the heat of Abu Dhabi. 

Venue: Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi

Broadcast details: Saturday, October 11 - Fox Sports 1, 1am (Kick off 1.30am AEDT)